Washington: Working at a clean and prim desk may promote healthy eating and generosity while having a messy desk may promote creative thinking and stimulate ideas, according to new studies.

Psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs and her fellow researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted studies and found that both tidy and messy desks have certain benefits.

“Prior work has found that a clean setting leads people to do good things: Not engage in crime, not litter, and show more generosity,” Vohs said.

“We found, however, that you can get really valuable outcomes from being in a messy setting,” she said.

In the first of several experiments, participants were asked to fill out some questionnaires in an office. Some completed the task in a clean and orderly office, while others did so in an unkempt one – papers were strewn about, and office supplies were cluttered here and there.

Afterward, the participants were presented with the opportunity to donate to a charity, and they were allowed to take a snack of chocolate or an apple on their way out.

Being in a clean room seemed to encourage people to do what was expected of them, Vohs explained.

Compared with participants in the messy room, they donated more of their own money to charity and were more likely to choose the apple over the candy bar.

In another experiment, participants were asked to come up with new uses for ping pong balls.

Overall, participants in the messy room generated the same number of ideas for new uses as their clean-room counterparts. But their ideas were rated as more interesting and creative when evaluated by impartial judges.

“Being in a messy room led to something that firms, industries, and societies want more of: Creativity,” said Vohs.

The researchers also found that when participants were given a choice between a new product and an established one, those in the messy room were more likely to prefer the novel one – a signal that being in a disorderly environment stimulates a release from conventionality.

Whereas participants in a tidy room preferred the established product over the new one.

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights. Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe,” Vohs said.

“We used 6 different locations in our paper – the specifics of the rooms were not important. Just making that environment tidy or unkempt made a whopping difference in people’s behaviour,” she said.

The study was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Working at a messy desk may boost your creativity

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